Serial killer seeks to get out of solitary confinement

Man jailed in 1981 prison guard killing sues to get out of solitary confinement

A convicted serial killer who has been in solitary confinement since 1981 after killing a corrections officer has filed a lawsuit asking to be let out of isolation.

The former Amsterdam man who killed a female corrections officer in 1981 and has been placed in solitary confinement ever since is suing on the grounds that his punishment is unconstitutional.

A trial on the lawsuit brought by Lemuel Smith is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Rochester.

Smith was sentenced to up to life in prison in 1978 after convictions in Schenectady County Court for murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape.

Smith is currently incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility in Erie County.

His attorneys argue that their 82-year-old client been deprived of his civil rights.

Smith was sentenced to 15 years of solitary confinement for the officer’s murder. However, once that sentence expired in 1996, he was denied repeated requests to be released back into the general population.

The lawsuit claims that prison staff “rubber stamped” recommendations that Smith’s confinement be continued indefinitely.

Smith remains in his 13-foot by 10-foot cell for nearly 24 hours. He has not been able to access vocational, cultural or educational programs.

Smith is confined to a wheelchair with a variety of physical impairments. His muscles have atrophied due to his sedentary state. He has a spinal condition which limits his mobility. He also takes a variety of medications to guard against heart attack, high blood pressure and prostrate cancer.

His attorneys say that other than some minor infractions for contraband and disobeying an order, he has been well-behaved in prison.

However, they argue that Smith is being kept in solitary to serve as an example to others. Former Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Glenn Goord said in a 1998 interview that “Lemuel Smith will remain locked up for as long as I am Commissioner.”

The lawsuit various commissioners of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and staff members as defendants.

Smith is seeking to be placed into the general prison population and for punitive damages.

“Defendants’ decades-long confinement and infliction of significant psychological and physical harm and the risk of future harm to Plaintiff, who has not committed any serious infraction for over thirty-five years, offends society’s sense of decency, constitutes an intolerable practice in modern society, and is a disproportionate punishment that violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit stated.  

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The Times Union was the first to report the story.